In Memoriam: Michael Freedman

The award-winning journalist served as GW vice president of communications and professor, an executive at UPI and CBS News, and president of the National Press Club.

September 22, 2023

Michael Freedman

Michael Freedman at the Robert F. Kennedy Awards at GW in 2010. (William Atkins/GW Today)

Michael Freedman, who enjoyed a storied career in both broadcast journalism and academia, died Sept. 18 at his home in Alexandria, Va. He was 71.

Freedman worked nearly four decades as a journalist, network executive, university administrator and professor. Among his many leadership positions were president of the National Press Club, general manager of CBS Radio Network, managing editor for the broadcast division of United Press International, GW vice president and professor of journalism, and senior vice president and journalist in residence at University of Maryland Global Campus

Along the way, Freedman and his teams earned more than 85 honors, including 14 Edward R. Murrow Awards.

As president of the National Press Club in 2020, Freedman led the world’s top professional organization for journalists through the pandemic, protests, politics, presidential election, failed insurrection, inauguration and the launch of COVID vaccinations—all while providing journalists with space to work when their newsrooms were closed and speaking out on behalf of global press freedom.  

At GW, which Freedman joined as vice president of communications in 2000, he forged groundbreaking partnerships with CNN, the National Press Club, POLITICO and the Newseum and led the university’s production of more than 700 CNN Crossfire telecasts live from campus. After leaving his role as vice president, he continued to teach in GW’s School of Media and Public Affairs (SMPA).

“I was lucky to be in his first class my senior year at GW, spring 2001,” said Joe Bondi, B.A. '01, M.A. '03, now senior vice president at former president George Washington’s Mount Vernon. “His office in Rice Hall was our classroom. The National Press Club was our classroom. WTOP and the Nats Park broadcast booth were our classrooms. Mike’s class—which he went on to teach for 20-plus more years—was so very GW.  It was a practical education that used the city as its textbook, famous guest speakers as its lecturers. Without a doubt, Mike’s class inspired careers in radio, no small feat indeed.

“I first was his student, later colleague and friend," Bondi said.

Michael Freedman teaching
Michael Freedman teaching his GW SMPA class in a classroom at The Newseum. (William Atkins/GW Today)

Frank Sesno, an SMPA professor and director of the school’s strategic initiatives, said Freedman “was one-of-a-kind whose passion for journalism was exceeded only by his commitment to his students and sense of history.”

“He brought the "Murrow Boys" to life and showed how their fearless reporting should still be a model for future journalists—even in these very different times,” Sesno said. “From the classroom to the Kalb Report, from his mentoring to his philanthropy, Mike was driven by his faith in our students and his love for GW.  We will miss him terribly.”

A native of Detroit, Freedman was drawn to radio from an early age. After graduating from Wayne State University, he spent 15 years as a radio reporter, anchor, sportscaster and news director in Michigan. He came to Washington, D.C., in the 1980s to join United Press International where he led the UPI Radio Network and National Broadcast Wire. He also worked for a stint on Capitol Hill as press secretary to U.S. House Majority Whip David E. Bonior (D-Mich.).

For nearly three decades, from 1994 to 2023, he served as executive producer of the multi award-winning Kalb Report public broadcasting series, moderated by Marvin Kalb and featuring guests including Supreme Court justices, the nation’s top journalists and civil rights icons. 

Michael Freedman
Michael Freedman with his wife, Renee, at GW's Commencement in 2010. (Jessica Burt/GW Today)

During his tenure at CBS News, Freedman partnered with Walter Cronkite on the legendary newsman’s final programming for the network, including the 30-part radio series “Walter Cronkite’s Postscripts to the 20th Century.”

He also served as executive producer of the three-hour “CBS News 20th Century Roundup,” anchored by Dan Rather and featuring the final reunion of all the surviving members of Edward R. Murrow’s original WWII broadcast team.

At the University of Maryland Global Campus, Freedman served as executive producer of the renowned public broadcasting documentary “Over There,” chronicling the work of pioneering overseas faculty who taught in the war zones of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Peter Loge, director of SMPA, noted that through his time at GW, Freedman “helped  tell the university's story.”

“And as a professor,” Loge said, “he inspired generations of students to tell their stories. His commitment to GW and broadcasting helped build our community. Through our community, Mike's legacy will live on.” 

Freedman is survived by his wife, Renee, two sons, Brian and Danny, and five grandchildren.